Created on August 23, 2013 at 3:25 pm by Mandrake

Stylistic origins Rhythm and bluesJazzFolkDanceClassicalRock and roll
Cultural origins Nominally early 1990s; trace the roots to 1960s
Typical instruments VocalsRappingDrum machineDrum padDrumsElectric bassKeyboardsPianoSamplerSequencerSynthesizer
Bubblegum popDance-popOperatic popPop balladPower popSoundtrackSynthpopSpace age popSunshine popTraditional popTeen pop
Local scenes
Seoul City
Other topics
Music of Korea

K-pop (an abbreviation of Korean pop;[1] Korean: 가요 kayo)[1] is a musical genre originating in South Korea that is characterized by a wide variety of audiovisual elements. Although it comprises all genres of “popular music” within South Korea, the term is more often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop music covering mostly dance-pop, pop ballad, electronic, rock, hip-hop, R&B, etc.[2]

In 1992, modern K-pop was ushered in with the formation of Seo Taiji & Boys, whose successful experimentation with different music styles had sparked a paradigm shift in the music industry of South Korea.[3] As a result, the integration of foreign musical elements has now become a common practice in the K-pop industry.[4]

By tapping into social networking services and the video sharing platform YouTube, the K-pop industry’s ability to secure a sizeable overseas audience has facilitated a noticeable rise in the global proliferation of the genre.[5] Since the mid-2000s, the K-pop music market has experienced double digit growth rates. In the first half of 2012, it grossed nearly US$3.4 billion,[6] and was recognized by Time magazine as “South Korea’s Greatest Export“.[7]

First gaining popularity in East Asia back in the late 1990s, K-pop entered the Japanese music market towards the turn of the 21st century. In the late 2000s, it grew from a musical genre into a subculture among teenagers and young adults of East and Southeast Asia.[8] Currently, the spread of K-pop to other regions of the world, via the Korean wave, is most clearly seen in parts of Latin America, Northeast India, the Middle East, North Africa, and immigrant enclaves of the Western world.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Overview[edit source | edit]

Search volume for K-pop since 2008 according to Google Trends

The hallmarks of K-pop are:

  • Diversity of audiovisual content: Although K-pop generally refers to South Korean popular music, some consider it to be an all-encompassing genre exhibiting a vast spectrum of musical and visual elements. The French audiovisual organization Institut national de l’audiovisuel defines K-pop as a fusion of synthesized music, sharp dance routines and fashionable, colorful outfits combining bubblegum pop with the musical elements of electro, disco, rock, R&B, and hip-hop.[17]
  • Systematic training of singers: The biggest management agencies in South Korea offer binding contracts to children starting from age 9 to 10. Trainees live together in a tightly regulated environment and spend many hours a day learning music, choreography, foreign languages as well as communication techniques with fans and journalists. This “robotic” system of training is often criticized by Western media outlets.[18] In 2012, the cost of training a single member from SM Entertainment‘s nine-member band Girls’ Generation averaged US$3 million.[19]
  • Synchronized dance formations and key movements in the choreography: When performing K-pop music, multiple singers in a band, often made up of more than three members, switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony.[20] The K-pop choreography often includes a hooking, repetitive dance that matches the characteristics of the lyrics of the song.[21][22]
  • Rapid distribution via the Internet: As the South Korean music industry is comparatively small, songs are released onto national television and simultaneously uploaded onto YouTube to reach out to a worldwide audience.[23] This is often preceded by a series of eagerly anticipated announcements and promotional activities referred to as a “comeback“, which altogether generates a significant amount of hype and excitement before the official release of songs and music videos.[24]

The Bank of Korea has attributed the rapid surge in cultural exports since 1997 to the increased worldwide popularity of K-pop.[25]

  • Support of government agencies: The South Korean government has acknowledged that an increased interest in South Korean popular culture will benefit the country’s export sector.[26] According to government estimates, a US$100 increase in the export of cultural products results in a US$412 increase in the export of other consumer goods.[27] Government initiatives to expand the popularity of K-pop are mostly undertaken by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which is responsible for the establishment of dozens of Korean Cultural Centers worldwide. Embassies and consulates of South Korea have also participated in the planning and organization of K-pop concerts outside the country,[28] and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regularly invites overseas K-pop fans to attend the annual K-Pop World Festival in South Korea.
  • Dedicated fanbase: Fan activities include translating Korean song lyrics and publishing them in English and other languages. An article by The Wall Street Journal indicated that K-pop’s staying power will be shaped by fans, whose online services have partly evolved into “micro”-businesses and small-scale ventures.[29] It is common for fans to organize flash mobs at prominent public areas via Facebook, performing and dancing to the latest K-pop songs so that a concert would be held.[30] Others have turned to other avenues such as calling the local South Korean consulate or embassy to request a concert.[31]

While the roots of K-pop run all the way back to the 19th century, it was mostly contained within the Korean Peninsula until the 21st century when it became an integral part of the Korean Wave; a newly coined term describing the rise and spread of South Korean culture first across Asia, and then to the West and to other parts of the world.[32] According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Korean Culture and Information Service, the total number of active members in Hallyu fan clubs around the world is estimated to have surpassed 3 million for the first time.[33]

History[edit source | edit]

The beginnings of Korean popular music[edit source | edit]

The history of Korean popular music can be traced back to 1885 when an American missionary, Henry Appenzeller started teaching American and British folk songs at a school. These songs were called changga in Korean, and they were typically based on a popular Western melody sung with Korean lyrics. The well-known song “Oh My Darling, Clementine” was for example known as “Simcheongga”.[note 1] During the Japanese rule (1910–1945) popularity of changga songs rose as Koreans tried to express their feelings against Japanese oppression through music. One of the most popular songs was “Huimangga” (희망가, The Song of Hope). The Japanese confiscated the existing changga collections and published lyrics books of their own.[34][third-party source needed]

The first known Korean pop album was “Yi Pungjin Sewol” (This Tumultuous Time) by Park Chae-seon and Lee Ryu-saek from 1925 and contained popular songs translated from Japanese. The first pop song written by a Korean composer is thought to be “Nakhwayusu” (낙화유수, Fallen Blossoms on Running Water) sung by Lee Jeong-suk in 1929.[34] In the mid-1920s, Japanese composer Masao Koga mixed traditional Korean music with Gospel music that American Evangelists introduced in the 1870s. This type of music became known as Enka in Japan, and later in Korea as Trot (Korean: “트로트”).[35][36] These songs became extremely popular.[34][third-party source needed]

Later, in the 21st century K-pop singers rediscovered the genre of trot, for example singers like Daesung from Big Bang and several members of Super Junior produced trot singles.[37][38]

1940s–1960s: Arrival of Western culture[edit source | edit]

After the Korean Peninsula was partitioned into North and South following its liberation in 1945 from Japanese occupation, Western culture was introduced into South Korea on a small scale with a few Western style bars and clubs playing Western music. After the Korean War, which started on June 25, 1950 and lasted for 3 years, U.S. troops remained in South Korea for protection. With the continued presence of the U.S. military, American and world culture began to infiltrate South Korea. During this time, Western music became more accepted to a wider crowd of young adults.

Marilyn Monroe entertaining American soldiers in Korea in 1954

The United Service Organizations made it possible for several prominent figures of American entertainment, like Marilyn Monroe or Louis Armstrong to visit the soldiers stationed in Korea. These visits prompted attention from the Korean public. In 1957 the American Forces Korea Network radio started its broadcast, spreading the popularity of Western music. American music started influencing Korean music, as pentatony was gradually replaced by heptachords and popular songs started to be modeled after American ones.[39]

Improvements in the recording systems encouraged the production of LP records in the 1960s, which led to the pursuit of diverse voice tones.[40] Many singers sang for the American troops in Korea at the time, usually in dedicated clubs, the number of which rose to 264. They performed various genres like country music, blues, jazz and rock & roll. Popular Korean singers earned a total of 1.2 million dollars a year which almost equaled the country’s export income at the time.[39]

In the 1960s, the South Korean economy started blooming and popular music followed the trend. The appearance of the first commercial radio stations played a significant part in spreading popular music, Korean cinema began to develop. Korean musicians and singers formerly only performing at American clubs started opening up to wider audiences. When The Beatles fever reached the shores of Korea, the first local rock bands appeared, the very first is said to be Add4,[41] founded in 1962.[39] The first talent contest for rock bands in Seoul was organized in 1968. Besides rock and pop, trot songs remained popular.[39]

Some of the Korean singers managed to gain international popularity. The Kim Sisters, Yoon Bok-hee and Patti Kim were the first singers to debut in such countries as Vietnam and United States. The Kim Sisters became the first Korean group to release an album in the United States, they performed various times in Las Vegas and appeared several times on Ed Sullivan‘s TV show.[42] Han Myeong Suk’s 1961 song titled “The Boy in The Yellow Shirt” was covered by French singer Yvette Giraud and was also popular in Japan.[39]

1970s: Korean hippie folk pop[edit source | edit]

At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s Korean pop music underwent another transformation. Musicians now tended to university students and graduates and made music fun and self entertaining unlike the earlier generations. These young musicians were heavily influenced by American culture and lifestyle, unlike their predecessors who had to experience war and Japanese oppression. This generational conflict was well reflected in the reception of the folk pop music of the ′70s. The audience consisted mostly of students following the American hippie style in fashion and music alike, with guitars and jeans becoming a symbol of youth.[40] These young people opposed the Vietnam war as much as American hippies did which resulted in the Korean government banning songs with more liberal lyrics. In spite of this, hippie folk pop remained popular among the youth so much so that the local television channel MBC organised a music contest for university students in 1977, which consequently led to the foundation of several modern music festivals.[43]

One of the leading figures of the era was Han Dae-soo, raised in the United States, influenced by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and John Lennon. Han’s iconic song “Mul jom juso” (물 좀 주소, Give Me Water) became a hymn for young people in Korea, his daring performances and unique singing style often shocked the public and later he was banned from performing in Korea. Han moved to New York and pursued his musical career there, only returning to his home country in the 1990s.[43] Other notable singers of the period include Chang Sik Song, Young Nam Cho and Hee Eun Yang.

In the 1970s, DJs also started to become popular, deeply impacting teenage culture.[40]

1980s: The era of ballads[edit source | edit]

The 1980s saw the rise of ballad singers, the genre became popular after the 1985 release of Lee Gwang-jo’s “You’re Too Far Away to Get Close to” (가까이 하기엔 너무 먼 당신, Gakkai Hagien Neomu Meon Dangsin). Lee’s album sold more than 300,000 copies. Other popular ballad singers included Lee Moon-se (이문세) and Byun Jin-seob (변진섭), nicknamed the “Prince of Ballads”. One of the most sought after ballad composers of the era was Lee Young-hoon (이영훈), whose songs were compiled into a modern musical in 2011 titled Gwanghwamun Yeonga (광화문 연가, Gwanghwamun’s Song).[44]

In 1980, the Asia Music Forum was launched. National singers from five different Asian countries competed in the event. Cho Yong-pil won first place and earned a high reputation as a Korean singer in Japan.[40] His first album, Chang bakkui yeoja (창 밖의 여자, The Woman outside the Window) was a hit and he became the first Korean singer to take the stage at the Carnegie Hall in New York. He won nearly all relevant awards at major events, including best composer and best song awards. He was invited to perform in Japan and Hong Kong, among other countries. Cho’s musical repertoire included rock, dance, trot and folk pop.[44]

1990s: The turning point[edit source | edit]

DJ DOC, one of the popular hip hop trios of the ’90s[45]

In the 1990s, early Korean pop musicians incorporated American popular music styles like rap, rock and techno in their music.[46] In 1992 the emergence of Seo Taiji & Boys brought a true turning point in the history of K-pop.[47] The trio debuted on MBC‘s talent show with their song “Nan Arayo” (난 알아요, I Know) and got the lowest rating from the jury.[47] However, the song and the album with the same title became so successful that, according to MTV Iggy, “K-pop music would never be the same” again:[48] “Its New Jack Swing-inspired beats, catchy rap lyrics and memorable choruses took Korean audiences by storm”.[48] The lyrics of Seo Taiji & Boys dealt with the problems of Korean society, which other entertainers of the era failed to do.[48] Their sound paved the way for the “success format” of K-pop songs,[48] and their footsteps were followed by a wave of successful hip hop and R&B artists like Jinusean, Deux, 1TYM and Drunken Tiger.[47]

In 1995 Korean entrepreneur Lee Soo-man founded South Korea’s largest talent agency and record label, SM Entertainment.[49] By the late 1990s, YG Entertainment, DSP Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and FNC Music had burst onto the scene as well and were producing talent as quickly as the public could consume it.[50]

The success of Seo Taiji & Boys brought a new audience to K-pop: teenagers, which led to the emergence of so-called idol bands: young boy and girl bands.[47] H.O.T. is considered as the first K-pop idol boy band, they debuted in 1995. They were followed by bands like Sechs Kies, S.E.S., Fin.K.L, NRG, Taesaja, Shinhwa or g.o.d.[47] The 1997 Asian financial crisis prompted Korean entertainers to look for new markets: H.O.T. also released a Chinese language album.[47]

The 1990s were also a successful period for underground music clubs, punk rock bands like Pipi Band or Crying Nut managed to gain mainstream popularity.[47]

21st century: Rise of the Hallyu wave[edit source | edit]

Towards the turn of the 21st century, the K-pop genre began spreading out to other regions of the world as part of the global Korean wave. In 2002, BoA became the first K-pop singer to reach No. 1 on the Japanese Oricon music chart.[51] Shortly afterwards, the South Korean music artist Rain gave a sold-out concert to 40,000 fans in Beijing.[52] Since the mid-2000s, a huge portion of the East Asian music market has been dominated by K-pop idol groups.[53]

In 2008, South Korea’s cultural exports rose to US$2 billion for the first time, maintaining an annual growth rate of over 10%.[54] That year, Japan accounted for almost 68% of all K-pop export revenues, ahead of China (11.2%) and the United States (2.1%).[55] The sale of concert tickets proved to be a lucrative business as fans were willing to fork out large sums to see their idols. For example, TVXQ‘s Tohoshinki Live Tour in Japan sold over 850,000 tickets at an average cost of US$109 each, generating a total of $US92.6 million in revenues.[56] Over 60% of the K-pop industry’s export revenue is derived from the sale of concert tickets.[56]

According to Foreign Policy, the K-pop genre subsequently took off in Southeast Asia before reaching out to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and South America.[9] In 2012, the number of fans in Turkey surpassed 100,000 for the first time,[57] and reached 150,000 in 2013.[58]

In recent years, the K-pop genre has spread to East Asia, Eastern Europe,[59][60] the Middle East (including North Africa[10]), Southeast Asia, South America and immigrant communities of the Western world[9][13] (As of May 2013)

Fuelled by the increased interest in K-pop songs, several singers decided to expand their music careers by releasing English languagestudio albums in the hope of bringing over the genre to Western music markets. However, such attempts mostly did not succeed at first.[61]

In 2012, K-pop’s breakthrough in the Western mainstream media occurred with the release of Psy‘s “Gangnam Style” which racked up over 1.7 billion views on YouTube as of mid-July 2013.

Other recent milestones attained by K-pop bands and musicians include:

After becoming the first K-pop band to enter the Billboard 200 music chart with their album “Alive“, BIGBANG kicks off the Alive Tour in 25 cities worldwide.[76][77] The tour ended in early 2013, and was attended by 800,000 concert-goers around the world.[78]
  • November 2012: PSY’s Gangnam Style becomes the most viewed video on YouTube.[79] After topping the record charts of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom,[80] it was awarded the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Video,[81] and became the first video on YouTube to hit a billion views.[82]

Characteristics[edit source | edit]

Clockwise from left: K-pop boy bands HITT, MBLAQ, BIGBANG and Exo

According to a Rolling Stone author, K-Pop is “a mixture of trendy Western music and high-energy Japanese pop (J-Pop), which preys on listeners’ heads with repeated hooks, sometimes in English. It embraces genre fusion with both singing and rap, and emphasizes performance and strong visuals”.[86] It is a mix of genres like pop, rock, hip hop, R&B and electronic music. K-pop can be described as a globalized music; as it is a mixture of Western and European sounds with an Asian flavor of performance. The way these Korean singers perform their songs with synchronized dance moves and complex gestures has increased the popularity of K-pop. It now takes a big place in the music market throughout Asia and the world.[87]

The BBC describes the K-pop group singers Super Junior and the Wonder Girls as “highly produced, sugary boy- and girl-bands with slick dance routines and catchy tunes.”[88] K-pop is also recognized for pretty-boys and girl groups[89] that are young and considered attractive.[90][91]

More than 60 boy and girl bands are produced each year in Korea, making way of labeling K-pop as a “star factory”. Many of these bands disappear after a few hits.[92] K-pop is a fast paced and high-competition industry, according to the Korea Times it produces easily consumable and disposable one-time hit songs that the audience downloads and then deletes.[93] The majority of K-pop songs spend only a short time on music charts and it is rare for a hit to lead the charts for several weeks.[94] The basic format is usually built upon a catchy chorus part and a spectacular, easy-to-master dance to accompany the song – like “Sorry, Sorry” from Super Junior, “Gee” from Girls’ Generation or “Abracadabra” from Brown Eyed Girls. The songs are marketed for one or two months and then are usually forgotten as new ones take their place.[92][93] Singer Insooni complained that “the songs that we sang back in the day are still sung today. But music these days – people perform for three months than [sic] stop. Fans have lost a sense of responsibility.”[95]

Visual experience is an integrated part of K-pop, which comprises the artist’s physical appearance and clothing as well as the sophisticated visuals of concerts and music videos. K-pop videos are often vivid, colourful, strident, extravagant and compared to traditional pop videos can even be shocking or incomprehensible.[96][97][98]

There are instances of foreign songwriters and producers composing songs for Korean performers, such as will.i.am, Sean Garrett, and American-raised Teddy Park.[99][100][101] Musicians who have collaborated with various K-Pop idols include many notable recording artists from the African American hip hop community, such as Akon, Kanye West, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and will.i.am.[102][103][104] It is not uncommon for K-pop songs to be composed by songwriters from Norway and Sweden.[105][106] As a music executive told The Wall Street Journal, South Korean music labels want “a mix of U.S. beats but with a Scandinavian songwriting style.”[107]

In recent years, K-pop has been overwhelmingly dominated by new generation idol bands and the expansion of genre is almost entirely driven by the Internet. As traditional media records are losing popularity among consumers, the significance of digital records has risen. In order to capture the audience’s attention in a shorter period of time, K-pop record labels generally prefer releasing and distributing shortened EP or single formats (as compared to full length albums). This has led to the widespread use of so-called ‘hooks’, which refers to catchy choruses that is easy to memorize.[52]

Marketing[edit source | edit]

The promotional activities of a K-pop artist involve the so-called “comeback“, called as such even when the musician or group in question did not go on hiatus.[24]

In order to make their new albums known to the public, K-pop artists participate in various promotional activities, such as appearing and performing on national television. Popular television programs in which bands and musicians usually make their comeback include the Korean Broadcasting System‘s Music Bank, the Seoul Broadcasting System‘s The Music Trend, and Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation‘s Show! Music Core. The first performance by a K-Pop artist on a music program specifically for the promotion of their new album or single is also known as the “comeback” stage.[108] In addition to stage performances, Teaser images and video clips are commonly released to the public as part of a “comeback”.[109] These are released one after another, often within the space of a few days before the full release.

K-pop music has become diversified into many different genres. Some K-pop musicians offer songs with the mixture of the tunes from the West, such as country music. The combination of Asian singers singing Western and European style music contributes to the unique features of K-pop and making it more global.[110]

Rookie artists start out with a “debut stage” and their second promotional cycle will be called a “comeback.”

Dance[edit source | edit]

Dance is an integral part of K-pop. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony. Since the debut of Seo Taiji & Boys, multiple singers began to switch their positions while singing and dancing, a strategy called “formation changing” (Korean: 자리 바꿈, Jari ba’ggum)[20] and a turning point for the establishment of K-pop choreography (Korean: 안무, Anmu).

The K-pop choreography often includes the so-called “point dance, “(Korean: 포인트 댄스) referring to a dance made up of hooking and repetitive movements within the choreography. The key movements standing out and being easily remembered are supposed to match the characteristics of the lyrics of the song. “Point dance” in a song has almost become a stereotype of K-Pops as shown in the success of the key movements like rubbing hands together side to side as a Korean hand gesture for apology in “Sorry Sorry” from Super Junior.[citation needed]

To choreograph a dance for a song requires the writers to take the tempo into account.[111] A fan’s ability to do the same steps must also be considered: “The Korean people really want their fans to be in the music as well. That’s why as choreographers we have to simplify movements,” according to Ellen Kim, a Los Angeles dancer and choreographer.[111]

Fashion[edit source | edit]

K-pop also influences fashion, especially in Asia, where clothes and accessories worn by K-pop stars, as well as their hairstyles and the cosmetic brands they use are sought after by young listeners.[112] Fashion brands release copies of clothing worn by idols.[113] Some K-pop idols including G-Dragon from Big Bang have established themselves as a fashion icon by attracting the attention of Western fashion designers, most notably Jeremy Scott, who expressed his interest in working with singer CL from 2NE1.[114][114][115][116][117][118]

In January 2012 Korean artists held a fashion show in Japan, which was attended by 33,000 people.[119] In Thailand authorities worry over the fashion items popularized by Korean pop, as Thai teenagers are willing to wear items unfit for local weather conditions (e.g. leggings) and also use skin whitening products to look like Korean celebrities.[120] In North Korea, despite strong governmental regulations, South Korean fashion is a topic of interest. K-pop popularized high-heel shoes, sleeveless tops and fashionable accessories, although such attire is forbidden in the country.[121] More information from Fashion in South Korea.

K-pop as an industry[edit source | edit]

Agencies[edit source | edit]

The three biggest agencies in terms of revenue are S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment,[122] often referred to as the “Big Three”, whose stocks are traded at the Korea Exchange.[123] In K-pop these record labels also function as agencies for the artists.[122] They started operating as such at the beginning of the 2000s.[122] They are responsible for recruiting, financing, training, marketing and publishing new artists as well as managing their activities and public relations.

In terms of market share the biggest agency is S.M. Entertainment.[123] Their artists started the Hallyu wave in K-pop and managed to break into Japan.[123] The “Big Three” occasionally cooperate, for example Se7en, managed by YG Entertainment received a song from JYP Entertainment founder Park Jin-young in 2012[124] and the representatives of the three agencies judged at the SBS reality talent show “K-pop Star“.[125] The “Big Three”, together with Star J Entertainment, AM Entertainment and Key East founded the United Asia Management (UAM),[126] which aims to spread K-pop globally as well as facilitate the development of better artist recruitment and management processes.[127] UAM auditions are global and not restricted to Korean talents.[127] Besides musicians, UAM also manages actors, directors, stylists, hair and make-up artists.[127] The merge was highly criticised as it might put pressure on content providers as well as further pressurize other Asian countries, like the Chinese market, which is unable to respond to and compete with the mass production of Korean entertainment companies.[127]

In 2009, DFSB Kollective became the first distributor of K-pop songs on iTunes.[128] The recent overseas expansion by K-pop music agencies has led to significant increases in profit and total revenue.

Total revenues of K-pop record labels (in USD million)
Year of
Record label 2008 2010 2011 2012 Source
1995 S.M. Entertainment 42.5 87.1 129 217 [129]
1996 YG Entertainment 51.8 70.3 96.9 [130]
1997 JYP Entertainment 3.1 9.1 17.8 13.5 [131]

Sales and market value[edit source | edit]

The Korean music industry grossed nearly $3.4 billion in the first half of 2012, which amounts to a 27.8% increase from the same period last year, according to Billboard.[6] Before the digital market took hold, the South Korean music industry was nearly destroyed in the early 2000s by the large amount of illegal file sharing, a problem threatening other countries at the time as well. In 2006, however, South Korea’s digital music market surpassed the physical market,[132] with more than half of revenue coming from digital sales.[133] K-pop’s social media presence on Korean and English websites such as Facebook and Youtube have also had a major impact on the size of its global market.[134] Viki, the video and music streaming website, has influenced global K-pop trends by providing translated subtitles for music videos.[135]

In 2011, 1,100 albums were released in South Korea. The hip-hop genre had the most among them at two-thirds of the total albums.[136] One-third of the albums were from other genres, including rock, modern folk, and crossover.[136] This shows that there is a variety of genres in South Korea outside of what is produced by K-pop idols.[136] Illegal downloads have pushed down prices significantly. In 2012, the average cost of obtaining a K-pop song in South Korea amounted to US$0.10 for a single download, or $0.002 when streamed online.[137]

K-pop is more than music or pop culture, but it is a new type of business model. It especially makes tourism work in a global scale. Fans from all over the world are coming to South Korea for tours and this has contributed positively to the total sales and market value of K-pop. Hence, according to Mfrascog, K-pop is “a model used to drive geographical interest and spawn tourism.”[138]

K-pop (in Korea) global music market rank
Year Physical* Digital
2005 27[139]
2006 27[140]
2007 32[141] 23[133]
2008 24[142]
2009 24[143] 14[133]
2010 21[144]
2011 11[140] 11[133]
2012 11[140] 8[145]
* includes albums, singles and DVDs sold

Trainee system[edit source | edit]

Cultural technology, or CT, is a concept popularized by Lee Soo-man, founder of the South Korean music label and talent agency S.M. Entertainment.[146] It is a 3-step process of exporting K-pop overseas as part of the Korean wave and consist of a tightly controlled training system. Joseph L. Flatley from the American news network The Verge described it as one of the most “extreme” systems of pre-packaging K-pop bands,[147] which are owned by a handful of entertainment agencies.[148] The three steps to the Cultural technology described by Lee Soo-man consists of the following: (1)exporting cultural products; such as placing Korean singers in different countries, (2)creating international collaborations and (3)globalizing the product by cooperating with musicians from different countries to create a global brand. Lee’s CT method makes the singers to have different images and styles depending on the nation that they perform in, thus allowing to target the specific audiences in the right way.[149]

South Korean entertainment companies such as S.M. Entertainment have created a process to train singers and dancers in its groups. The journey to stardom often starts around age 9 or 10, when tightly supervised trainees begin dance and voice classes at night and live together while attending school.[150] Besides singing and dancing trainees are also taught foreign languages, most notably English, Japanese and Chinese.[151] According to the CEO of Universal Music‘s Southeast Asian branch, the Korean idol trainee system is unique in the world.[122]

To guarantee the high probability of success of new talent, talent agencies fully subsidize and oversee the professional lives and careers of trainees, often spending in excess of $400,000 to train and launch a new artist.[152]

K-pop culture[edit source | edit]

Basic notions and conventions[edit source | edit]

K-pop uses a set of genre specific expressions.[153] These include traditional Korean honorifics, used by both idols and fans. Besides this traditional social system, K-pop adds its own subculture. As much as age is important, the debut date and popularity of the artist also matters. Younger artists or those who debuted later are called hoobae (후배) and they must greet the older and earlier debuted colleagues (선배, sunbae, “senior”) with an insa (인사), the traditional deep bow. Failing to do this have met with strong criticism from the industry and the fans alike, for example in the case of girl group T-ara.[154][155]

Boy and girl groups in Korea are referred to as idols or idol bands.[156] Idol bands have a strict hierarchy. Every band has a leader, chosen by either the members or the managing company based on age, personality and leadership qualities. The leader is a representative of the band as well as responsible for group harmony.[157] The youngest band member is called maknae (막내), which is a special position as it is traditionally regarded that the cuter the maknae the more potential a band has in terms of popularity.[158] Idols are recruited and trained in a trainee system regarded as exceptional in the pop industry.[159]

The Korean pop industry involves the so-called fan service, which is largely based on bromance of a non-sexual nature between band members of male idol groups. Fans pair their favourites into “OTPs” (one true pairing), who in turn reinforce the pairs by acting cute and brotherly with each other on television. The names of such bromantic pairs are contracted from the original stage names of the members, for example the G-DragonSeungri OTP is commonly referred to as “GRi”. OTP pairs are called “ships”, from the English term “relationship”, and fans of these “ships” are called “shippers”.[160][161]

Frequently used expressions[edit source | edit]

Addressing others
Korean Romanized Explanation
오빠 oppa woman’s elder brother; Korean women call older male family members and friends as well as their lovers this way. Fans commonly refer to male idols as “oppa”.[162]
hyung man’s elder brother; Korean men call older male family members and friends this way. Younger members of idol groups call the older members “hyung” as well. Failing to do this is regarded rude and impolite.[163]
언니 unni woman’s elder sister; Korean women call older female family members and friends this way. Younger girl group members also refer to older members as “unni”.[164]
누나 noona man’s elder sister; Korean men refer to older women in their family as well as their friend circles this way.[164]
동생 dongsaeng younger sibling; regardless of sex, people in close relationship with the speaker are referred to as dongsaengs.[153]
선배 sunbae senior, someone with more experience in the respective field, regardless of age[155][165]
후배 hoobae junior; someone with less experience in the respective field, regardless of age.[155]
Other frequent expressions
Korean Romanized Explanation
화이팅 hwaiting Originated from the English “fighting”, this expression is widely used for encouragement and support.[166]
대상 Daesang At music awards several artists receive Bonsangs for their outstanding achievement in music, then one of the Bonsang winners is awarded with a Daesang, the “Grand Prize”.[167]
본상 Bonsang
Expression Explanation
All-Kill (AK)
Perfect All-Kill (PK)
They refer to chart positions. “AK” means that the song reached #1 on the charts of the seven biggest online music portals of South Korea the same day. “PK” songs also led the ringtone download charts.[168]
mini album A mini album in K-pop means that the record (physical or digital) contains no more than two or three songs and their remixes. It is usually longer than a single but shorter than an EP.[153]
title track Title track in K-pop means the leading track of the album, which has a music video released and is promoted on music shows like Inkigayo by live performances.[153]
repackaged album Repackaged album means that after the first promotions of the album are finished, the album is re-released with new design, containing one or two new tracks, out of which one is a “title track” with a new music video.[153]
promotion Promotion in K-pop refers to promoting the “title track” in several televised music shows like Inkigayo. Promotion on TV shows usually last one month, with a “debut stage” for newcomers, a “comeback stage” for regulars and a “goodbye stage” at the end of the cycle.[153]
point dance Point dance consists of hooking and repetitive key movements within the choreography, which matches the characteristics of the lyrics.[22][21]

Appeal and fan base[edit source | edit]

Big Bang fans (VIPs) hold crown shaped light sticks during a concert: this is the symbol of the fan club

Fan rice for the Korean boyband EXO

According to some opinions, the music itself is not the decisive factor in the popularity of K-pop. A publication in New York Magazine calls K-pop “catchy but derivative” and states that Girls’ Generation fans admit to liking the group for its members’ looks and their personality, radiating what the magazine calls “humility” and friendliness to each and one of the fans. A fan stated to the magazine that when Girls’ Generation performs on stage, you get the illusion of the girls sometimes looking right at you and interacting with you personally.[169]

Many K-pop fans travel overseas to get the chance to see Korean bands. Tours from Japan and China bring fans to see K-pop concerts.[170] A K-pop group tour from Japan had more than 7000 fans fly to Seoul to meet boy band JYJ.[171] During JYJ’s concert in Barcelona, fans from many parts of the world camped overnight to gain entrance.[172]

Korean fan clubs play an essential role in K-pop, their structure and operation is different from Western fan clubs.[173] Each club has its own name and color. For example, TVXQ fans are called “Cassiopeia” and their official color is “pearl red”; SS501 fans are named “Triple S” and their fandom color is “pearl light green”; and Super Junior‘s fan club is called “E.L.F.” and they use the color “pearl sapphire blue”.[173] Colors play an important role in fandoms, as fans express their unity and loyalty this way, especially in concerts where other artists also perform: fans from a certain fan club create their own sectors with the represented colors, usually with light sticks or official balloons and create a “Kpop Ocean”.[173][174] If a color is already taken, fanclubs of new artists cannot choose them unless the color they want is taken by a soloist or a group of a different gender.[173] As colors are limited some artists do not have an official color, Big Bang fans for example hold crown shaped yellow light sticks, while Se7en‘s fans are represented by the number 7.[175]

Official fan clubs have subscription “waves”[173] when fans need to register, usually after paying the club fee and then the fan receives a membership cards and other items such as light sticks and official balloons for an idol. Clubs are well organized, united in nature and frequently participate in charity events to support their idols.[173] They purchase bags of fan rice as gifts to their favourite bands in order to show their love and support. According to Time Magazine, for BIGBANG’s first show in months, 12.7 tons of rice were donated from 50 fan clubs around the world and stacks of rice bags were lined up like shrines to the K-pop idols. There are businesses dedicated to shipping the rice from farmers to the venues.[176] The rice bags are then donated to people in need.[177] Another way for fan clubs to show devotion is sending lunch to the stars, and there are special catering companies in South Korea for this purpose. The trend started when fans picked up complaints that the stars do not eat properly due to their busy schedules.[178]

A unique feature of K-pop fan clubs is the so-called organized “fan chant” during live performances when fans chant parts of the song lyrics or the names of the idols (in order of birth) at parts of the performance previously decided and organized by the club.[153][179] Standardized phrases are generally chanted during non-vocal part in the song, as to not disturb the singers. There are various websites and video tutorials for fan chants of K-pop songs.

Obsession[edit source | edit]

There is a recognized concern of K-pop fans turning to obsession and compulsive behaviors such as stalking and invasion of privacy. These fans are called sasaeng, or “private” fans. These fans are usually young females, around the age of 15 to 17 years old.[180] Some sasaeng fans hire taxis to follow their idols. There are taxi services catering specifically for these fans that are willing to speed after the vans transporting idols. Korean public officials recognize this as a unique but serious concern.[180][181]

During a press conference, the boy band JYJ confirmed they were victims of invasion of privacy and stalking. There were instances of breaking into their private households, where fans would take pictures of them in sleep or steal items.[182] Junsu from JYJ told reporters that obsessive fans have even installed GPS trackers under his car to monitor his every move.[183] Fans also resort to harassing artists by acquiring their phone numbers, hitting them or touching their private parts.[184] Some sasaengs go as far as engaging in prostitution to earn the money necessary for following their idol’s every step.[181] Some sasaeng fans have installed CCTV surveillance cameras near Park Yoochun’s home.[185] In another incident, as KBS reports TVXQ member Yunho drank a beverage containing super glue given to him by an anti-fan and had to receive medical attention.[186][187]

Many celebrities have expressed their concern over the sasaeng activities, in 2012 a member of JYJ, which has the most sasaeng fans among all K-pop idols,[180] was accused of resorting to violation and shouting when confronted by stalking fans on the street.[188] Super Junior member Kim Heechul and popular singer-actor Jang Keun-suk have also reacted angrily at sasaeng moves.[180] In response to a growing number of K-pop fans displaying anti-social behaviours, a law was passed on March 11, 2013 to discourage harassment and making it illegal to infringe the privacy of a person. Under the revision, first time offenders making persistent phone calls and sending letters could face a fine of up to 80,000 South Korean won (US$72).[189]

Celebrity fans[edit source | edit]

Music artists and celebrities who are fans of K-pop include:

  • Grimes: According to Grimes, K-pop has influenced her musical style “more visually than anything else”.[190] The Canadian singer is also known to be an admirer of Big Bang‘s G-Dragon.[190][191]
  • Nelly Furtado: During an interview with the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, Furtado pointed out that there has been a “big K-Pop explosion” and that she has been closely following the development of K-pop over the past few years.[192] She expressed an interest to collaborate with Big Bang‘s member T.O.P, and also admitted to being “obsessed” with the K-pop genre.[193]
  • A*M*E: According to A*M*E, she first discovered K-pop when her older sister showed her a music video by Big Bang and told her to “listen to it with an open mind”, and she “absolutely loved it from the first moment”.[196] As a result, K-pop has influenced her music style. In 2013, she co-produced the single “Need U (100%)” with Duke Dumont, which “blends her beloved K-pop into Dumont’s house music”, according to a music critic from Fuse TV.[197]
  • Grammy-winning artist Jill Scott took on twitter to spread her new discovery of K-pop, writing: “Feeling Big Bang’s Bad Boy right now. Dope”, and “Check out Big Bang – our brand of fresh in Korea” She went even further to confess her love with a picture of T.O.P, tweeting: “Odd couple but I love this guy. His name is TOP…I think.”[201]

Events[edit source | edit]

World tours[edit source | edit]

  • 2011–present: Music Bank World Tour featuring various K-pop artists in Japan, France, Chile, Indonesia and Turkey.
  • 2013: INFINITE 1st World Tour “One Great Step” starring INFINITE in Asia, America and Europe

Conventions and music festivals[edit source | edit]

K-pop and social media[edit source | edit]

The spread of K-pop is further spurred on by ordinary internet users, bloggers and Hallyu websites. According to a researcher from Yeungnam University, a website called “dkpopnews.net” has played a critical role in spreading the K-pop music genre across Southeast Asia, while in Japan, a Twitter user named “kpop_lov” is recognized to be a “major” source of K-pop information.[205]

On April 6, 2013, the 26th Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, sent a birthday greeting to Super Junior‘s Choi Siwon after a fan known as “MaddyIsOk” requested him to do so on his official Twitter account.[206][207] An article by The Wall Street Journal indicated that K-pop’s staying power will likely be shaped by fans, whose online services have partly evolved into “micro”-businesses and small-scale ventures.[29]

In the United States, a fan website known as “soshified.com” draws over 10 million clicks each month.[208] Some other popular K-pop websites include:

  • Soompi: Largest and oldest K-pop website. In order to cater to international fans, Soompi has recently began to publish articles in extra languages such as Spanish, French and Portuguese.

Internet memes[edit source | edit]

Since February 2013, an Internet meme known as the Gwiyomi song has been spreading across the global K-pop community via social media platforms.

YouTube views[edit source | edit]

Psy, whose music video for “Gangnam Style” became the first to reach more than a billion YouTube views[210]

Of the 2.28 billion worldwide K-pop YouTube views in 2011, 240 million came from the United States, which was more than double that of 2010 (94 million).[211]

Popularity and impact[edit source | edit]

South Korea is emerging in the 21st century as a major exporter of popular culture.[212] As part of the Korean wave, K-pop has been embraced by the South Korean government as a tool for soft power abroad, particularly towards youth.[213]

Prior to the rise of social media networks, K-pop concerts and related events outside East and Southeast Asia were mostly unheard of. However, with the growing acceptance of YouTube during the late-2000s as a popular music sharing plattform, K-pop has since become increasingly well known in many parts of the world, including the West.[214] According to The New York Times, “attempts by K-pop stars to break into Western markets had largely failed prior to the proliferation of global social networks.” However, K-pop artists are now gaining more international exposure through social media networks such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, making it easier for them to reach a wider audience.[61] Among the consumers of K-pop around the world, there are significant demographic differences depending on location:

Donika Sterling, an American K-Pop fan diagnosed with Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, was sponsored to meet her favourite idols in South Korea.[215][216]

Region Time period Demographics of K-pop audience
Japan 2002–present Teenagers and middle-aged women from the upper class[217][218]
United States Before 2010 Mostly Korean Americans
Since 2010 Mostly Korean Americans and Asian Americans,[15][219] but also some White Americans and a growing number of African Americans[14][16][220]
Rest of the world Since 2010 Mostly teenagers and young adults,[221] especially girls, women in their 20s,[222][223] and some women in their 30s[224]

Asia[edit source | edit]

2NE1 at a concert in Clarke Quay, Singapore

Following the lifting of import/export restrictions between South Korea and Japan which were in place since World War 2, the album Listen to My Heart by BoA was the first album by a Korean artist to debut at the top of the Japanese Oricon charts and become an RIAJ-certified million-seller in Japan.[225] On January 16, 2008, TVXQ (known as Tohoshinki in Japan) reached the top of the Oricon charts, with their sixteenth Japanese single “Purple Line“. This made them the first foreign and Korean male group to have a number-one single in Japan.[226][227] Afterwards, the Japanese music market has seen the influx of Korean pop acts including SHINee,[228] Super Junior,[229] Big Bang,[230] KARA, Girls’ Generation, Girl’s Day, After School, 2PM, and Brown Eyed Girls.[231] In 2011, it has been reported that the total sales for K-pop artists’ has increased 22.3% during 2010–2011 in Japan. Some artists have been in the top 10 selling artists of 2011 in Japan.[232]

According to the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange, K-pop has been a successful export of Korean culture in Asia. On its “Korean Wave” index, the top country in 2010 was Japan, in a list that also included Taiwan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.[233]

K-pop has yet to make a major impact in China but there has been considerable success. In 2005 Rain held a concert in Beijing with 40,000 people in attendance.[52] The Wonder Girls won an award in the 5th annual China Mobile Wireless Music Award for having the highest digital sales for a foreign artist with five million digital downloads in 2010.[234] Super Junior and their sub-group Super Junior-M have had successful results on the Kuang Nan Record, CCR and Hit Fm Taiwan music charts.[235]

India[edit source | edit]

In the Indian state of Manipur, where separatists have banned Bollywood movies, consumers have turned to Korean popular culture for their entertainment needs. The BBC‘s correspondent Sanjoy Majumder reported that Korean entertainment products are mostly pirated copies smuggled in from neighbouring Burma, and is generally well received by the local population.[11][236]

This has led to the Korean language becoming more popular among young people, with phrases such as “Annyeong-haseyo” (안녕하세요) and “Kamsahamnida” (감사합니다) now commonly heard in everyday speech.[11] In response to the growing Korean cultural influence, Professor Amar Yumnam from Manipur University proposed setting up Korean language classes for students, after a meeting between university officials and diplomats from the Korean Embassy in New Delhi was held in 2011.[237]

In order to capitalize on the popularity of K-pop in Manipur, many hairdressing salons have offered “Korean-style” cuts based on the hairstyles of K-pop boy bands.[11][236] This wave of Korean popular culture is currently spreading from Manipur to the neighbouring state of Nagaland,[238] and to Nepal.[239]

United States and Canada[edit source | edit]

Rain at the 2011 Time 100 gala

One of the first significant K-pop events to be held in the United States were Rain’s 2006 sold-out concerts in New York City and in Las Vegas 6 months later. In 2009, the Wonder Girls became the first K-pop artist to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.[240] They also joined the Jonas Brothers in the Jonas Brothers World Tour 2009. In 2010 they toured 20 cities in the United States and Canada, and were named House of Blues “Artist of the Month” for June.[241]

In 2010 SM Entertainment organized SMTown Live ’10 World Tour, touring in Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo and New York. In May 2012, SM Town returned to California again with the SMTown Live World Tour III in Anaheim.

In 2010, during the 8th Annual Korean Music Festival, K-pop artists made their first appearances at the Hollywood Bowl.[242] Notable K-pop concerts in the United States in 2011 include the 2011 KBS Concert at the New York Korea Festival, the 2011 K-Pop Masters Concert in Las Vegas, and the Korean Music Wave in Google, the latter held at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.[243]

At the start of 2012, Girls’ Generation performed the English version of “The Boys” on the late night talk show Late Show with David Letterman and on the daytime talk show Live! with Kelly, becoming the first Korean musical act to perform on each show, and the first Korean act to perform on syndicated television in the United States.[244] In the same year, the group formed their first sub-unit, entitled Girls’ Generation-TTS, or simply “TaeTiSeo“, composed of members Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun. The subgroup’s debut EP, Twinkle, peaked at #126 on the Billboard 200, becoming the highest charting K-Pop album on the chart.[245]

In December 2011 2NE1 won MTV Iggy’s Best New Band award.[246] In August 2012, as part of their New Evolution Global Tour, 2NE1 held their first American concert in the New York Metropolitan Area at the Prudential Center of Newark, New Jersey.[247]

In November 2012, as part of their Alive Tour, Big Bang held their first solo concert in America going to the Honda Center in Los Angeles, California and the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The tickets sold out in only a few hours, thus additional dates were added.[248]

On November 13, 2012, the American singer-songwriter Madonna and a few of her backup dancers performed “Gangnam Style” alongside PSY during a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. PSY later told reporters that his gig with Madonna had “topped his list of accomplishments”.[249]

South America[edit source | edit]

K-pop fans in Colombia taking part in a reality show jointly aired by the local Caracol TV and South Korea’s Arirang TV in April 2012[250]

In the first South America K-pop Competition in 2010, 92 teams from 10 countries participated. In 2011 they were joined by more countries for the second South America K-pop Competition.[251]

In 2011, the United Cube Concert was held in São Paulo, Brazil.

In March 2012, the boyband JYJ performed in both Chile and Peru. When JYJ arrived at the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Peru for the JYJ World Tour Concert, the band was escorted by airport security officials through a private exit due to safety reasons concerning the large number of fans.[252] At the Explanada Sur del Estadio Monumental in Lima, some fans camped out for days in to see JYJ.[253]

In Colombia, Caracol TV and Arirang TV made a K-pop reality show in April 2012.[250]

In September 2012, Junsu became the first K-pop idol to perform in Mexico and Brazil, the concerts sold out well in advance.[254] Since 2009, about 260 fan clubs with a total of over 20,000 and 8,000 active members have been formed in Chile and Peru respectively.[255][256]

Europe[edit source | edit]

Beast performing at the Beautiful Show in Berlin

In London, Beast and 4Minute performed during the United Cube Concert. The MBC Korean Culture Festival was also held in London.[257] When SHINee arrived at the London Heathrow Airport for a concert at the Odeon West End, part of the airport became temporarily overrun by frenzied fans. The reservation system of Odeon West End crashed for the first time one minute after ticket sales began as the concert drew an unexpectedly large response.[258] In 2011, the Korean boyband Big Bang flew to Belfast and won the Best Worldwide Act during the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards in Northern Ireland.[259]

In May 2011, Rain became the first K-pop artist to perform in Germany during the Dresden Music Festival.[260] later followed by JYJ performed in Berlin and Barcelona. In February 2012, the boyband BEAST held the Beautiful Show in Berlin. According to the local Berliner Zeitung, many fans who attended the Beautiful Show came not just from Germany but also from neighbouring countries such as France and Switzerland.[261]

K-pop fans in Warsaw holding a South Korean-Polish flag as well as banners of various boy bands

The SMTown Live ’10 World Tour was held in Paris, followed by the Super Junior Super Show 4 Tour, also in Paris. In February 2012, the Music Bank World Tour drew more than 10,000 fans to the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy[262]

In 2012, Big Bang won the Best Fan category in the Italian TRL Awards.[263]

K-pop is becoming increasingly popular in Poland. In 2011, the K-pop Star Exhibition was held in the Warsaw Korean Culture Center, as well as a K-pop party which attracted fans all across Poland. Fans told The Warsaw Voice; “we want to express our admiration for Korean music and our hope that some day they will perform in Poland.”[264] There have also been K-pop flash mobs in other European cities including Prague, and Warsaw.[265][266]

During the 2011 K-pop Cover Dance Festival, 57 Russian dance teams took part to win a trip to South Korea.[267] During the second round of the competition, the boyband SHINee flew to Moscow as judges of the competition and they also performed in front of the Russian fans and participated in a flash mob.[268]

Middle East and Africa[edit source | edit]

In Turkey, Korean culture is catching on quickly and Internet-savvy generation of Turks are using their computers and phones to explore cultures around the world and a large chunk of the pre-teen demographic is flocking to South Korean culture.[269] In 2012, the total number of active members in K-Pop fan clubs across Turkey surpassed 100,000 members.[57]

The boyband ZE:A appeared for a meet and greet session for fans in Dubai[270] and a concert in Abu Dhabi.[271] In Israel, local K-pop fans met South Korea’s Ambassador to Israel Ma Young-sam in July 2011. Israeli fans traveled to Paris for the SMTown Live ’10 World Tour in Europe.[272] In Cairo, hundreds of K-pop fans came to Maadi Library’s stage theater to see the final round of the K-POP Korean Song Festival, organized by the Korean Embassy. Fans drew banners in Korean and many were screaming along to the Korean songs.[273]

In 2013, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported that young people in Israel are beginning to see K-pop as “cultural capital” – something which makes them stand out from the crowd. It is hoped that the Korean Wave will bring together fans from both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, where there are over 3,000 K-pop followers.[274]

Oceania[edit source | edit]

Concerts in Australia include the 2011 K-Pop Music Festival, at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney,[275] featuring Girls’ Generation, TVXQ, B2ST, SHINee, 4minute, miss A, 2AM, and MBLAQ. While, in New Zealand, a K-pop Festival is planned to take someplace sometime during the summer of 2012/2013, starring Girls’ Generation, 2PM and Kara and the South Korean Embassy will be backing New Zealand’s first national K-pop competition.[276] NU’EST visited Sydney in August 2012 at Sydney Harbour and at the University of New South Wales, as they were judges of a major K-pop concert that was being held there.[277] Psy toured Australia in October 2012, after his single ‘Gangnam Style’ reached number one in Australia on the ARIA charts.[278]

Current issues[edit source | edit]

K-pop and foreign policy[edit source | edit]

On May 7, 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama cited Psy’s “Gangnam Style” as an example of how people around the world are being “swept up by Korean culture — the Korean Wave.[279]

On May 25, 2010, South Korea responded to an alleged North Korean sinking of a navy ship by declaring “psychological warfare” and broadcasting 4Minute‘s newly released single HuH across the Korean Demilitarized Zone.[280] In response, North Korea affirmed its decision to “destroy” any speakers set up along the border.[281] According to South Korean media, the Ministry of Defense had considered setting up large TV screens across the border to broadcast music videos by several K-pop girlgroups including Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, After School, Kara and 4Minute as part of “psychological warfare” against North Korea. A spokesman representing the ministry told reporters that the “revealing” outfits worn by the performers and their “provocative” dances could have a considerable impact on North Korean soldiers.[282]

In September 2012, North Korea uploaded a video with a photoshopped image of South Korea’s current president Park Geun-hye performing the dance moves of Gangnam Style. The video labels her as a “devoted” admirer of the Yushin system of autocratic rule set up by her father, Park Chung-hee.[283][284]

Since the early 2010s, several political leaders have acknowledged the global rise of Korean pop culture, most notably U.S. President Barack Obama, who made an official visit to South Korea in 2012 and mentioned about the strong influences of social media networks in the digital age, and added that it is “no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean wave, Hallyu.”.[285] A few months later, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a speech in front of the National Assembly of South Korea, where he noted South Korea’s “great global success” in the fields of culture, sports and the arts, before pointing out that the Korean wave as well as the recent rise of Korean popular music is “making its mark on the world”.[286]

…when K-Pop artists travel to Europe, I’ll try to
convince them to stop by Turkey, too

—Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who invited
Jaejoong to meet his Turkish fans at Ankara University[287]

This had occurred a few days after U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland remarked in a daily press briefing that her daughter “loves Korean pop”,[288] which sparked a media frenzy in South Korea after a journalist from the country’s publicly funded Yonhap News Agency arranged an interview with Nuland and described Nuland’s teenage daughter as “crazy about Korean music and dance”.[289]

In November 2012, the British Minister of State for the Foreign Office Hugo Swire addressed a group of South Korean diplomats at the House of Lords, where he emphasized the close ties and mutual cooperation shaping South Korea–United Kingdom relations and added: “As “Gangnam Style” has demonstrated, your music is global too.”[290] In February 2013, the Vice President of Peru Marisol Espinoza gave an interview with South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, where she voiced her desire for more South Korean companies to invest in her country and named K-pop as “one of the main factors that made Peruvian people wanting to get to know South Korea more”.[291]

According to an article published by the international relations magazine Foreign Policy, the spread of Korean popular culture across Southeast Asia, parts of South America, and parts of the Middle East is illustrating how the gradual cessation of European colonialism is giving way and making room for unexpected soft power outside the West.[292] On the other hand, an article published by The Quietus magazine expressed concern that discussions about Hallyu as a form of soft power seems to bear a whiff of the “old Victorian fear of Yellow Peril“.[293]

Criticism[edit source | edit]

The K-pop genre has received substantial criticism for its:

  • Unoriginal, shallow character which copies and plagiarises Western music patterns[294][295][296]
  • Strict training regime and “pre-packaging” of idol bands and songs for fast consumption[297]
  • Heavy emphasis on visuals elements at the expense of musical sounds[92][93]
  • Misuse of English words in its lyrics and “meaningless” song titles[298][299]

In 2002, Time reported that television producers were arrested for “accepting under-the-table payments guaranteeing TV appearances to aspiring singers and musicians. According to Seoul District Prosecutor Kim Kyu Hun, the arrests of Hwang Yong Woo and Kim Jong Jin were just the first in a wide-ranging investigation into systemic corruption in South Korea’s music business”. Companies investigated included SidusHQ, SM Entertainment and others.[50]

K-pop companies are also criticized for taking advantage of their “idols” through overworking and restrictive contracts that were described as “slave contracts” in a BBC report.[297] In July 2009, SM Entertainment was taken to court by TVXQ and a Super Junior member alleging that working conditions had caused adverse health effects and other problems.[300][301] Court decision in the TVXQ lawsuit determined their contract void and as a result the fair trade commission released contract templates to regulate conditions.[297]

Regarding the quality of music, K-pop has been criticized for its heavily manufactured character, which involves the “pre-packaging” of idol bands and songs produced for fast consumption. The genre is also labeled to have copied Western patterns, lacking originality and lyrics were noted to be shallow. Repeated song patterns and formats as well as the use of Autotune is also sometimes considered to be a negative aspect of K-pop. It has also been regarded as “artificial”, where visuals matter over singing ability.[92][93][302][303][304]

K-pop has been criticized for overtly relying on American sound and being “copycats” of Western music patterns. Some Korean artists have even been involved in accusations of plagiarism.[302][305] New York magazine calls K-pop songs “catchy but derivative”.[169] The genre is often called bubblegum pop.[48][92] Lyrics have been criticized for being shallow and lifeless and for containing meaningless or non-existing English words.[303]

Despite its growing popularity, some commentators have remained doubtful of K-pop’s ability to break into Western music markets. CNN published an article written by freelance journalist Esther Oh, who wrote that big music markets “simply don’t care”.[306] The New Yorkers staff writer John Seabrook described Girls’ Generation as being a dominant girl group positioned to “conquer the West”, but also added that some analysts in the music industry consider K-pop’s idol groups too robotic to become mainstream.[307]

List of K-pop artists[edit source | edit]

See also[edit source | edit]

Notes[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ Not to be confused with the pansori story of the same name.

References[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ a b Holden, Todd Joseph Miles; Scrase, Timothy J. (2006). Medi@sia: global media/tion in and out of context. Taylor & Francis. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-415-37155-1. “Since the 1990s, the term “K-pop” has become popularized to refer to Korean popular music, being widely used throughout East and Southeast Asia.” 
  2. ^ “K-Pop”. Doosan Encyclopedia. Naver. Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  3. ^ Rothman, Lily. “Beyond PSY: 5 Essential K-Pop Tracks”. Time. Retrieved April 13, 2013. 
  4. ^ “What Marketers Can Learn from Korean Pop Music”. Havard Business Review. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  5. ^ Yoon, Lina. (2010-08-26) K-Pop Online: Korean Stars Go Global with Social Media. TIME. Retrieved on 2011-02-20.
  6. ^ a b Kwak, Donnie. “PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’: The Billboard Cover Story”. Billboard. Retrieved 2 November 2012. ” The Korean music industry grossed nearly $3.4 billion in the first half of 2012, according to Billboard estimates, a 27.8% increase from the same period last year.” 
  7. ^ “South Korea’s Greatest Export: How K-Pop’s Rocking the World”. Time (magazine). Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  8. ^ South Korea’s pop-cultural exports, The Economist
  9. ^ a b c JAMES RUSSELL, MARK. “The Gangnam Phenom”. Foreign Policy. Retrieved 11 October 2012. “First taking off in China and Southeast Asia in the late 1990s, but really spiking after 2002, Korean TV dramas and pop music have since moved to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and now even parts of South America.” 
  10. ^ a b “Korean pop culture spreads in Cairo”. Egypt Independent. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
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Bibliography[edit source | edit]

  • Hartong, Jan Laurens (2006). Musical Terms Worldwide: A Companion for the Musical Explorer. Semar Publishers. ISBN 978-88-7778-090-4. 
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